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How 15 Iconic American Beers Got Their Names

The United States got serious about beer in the 1800s, when many breweries introduced American lager-style beers to the masses. More than a hundred years later, some of these beers remain iconic, while others—like many newer, American craft beers—have been working on achieving that status. Here are the stories behind how 15 beers that define the U.S. beer scene got their names.

1. BUDWEISER

Today, Anheuser-Busch InBev is the largest brewery in the world, but it commenced with humbler beginnings. Adolphus Busch and his father-in-law, Eberhard Anheuser, ran the St. Louis brewery in the mid-1800s. Busch wanted to develop a light lager to contrast the rampant American dark beers. His friend Carl Conrad, a wine and liquor importer, had traveled to Budweis in what is now the Czech Republic and had tasted an incredible beer in a monastery there. Conrad took the idea back to St. Louis, and he and Busch decided on the name "Budweiser." In 1982, Bud Light (which is currently the best-selling beer in America) was introduced to the market.

2. SAM ADAMS BOSTON LAGER

Labels featuring a man holding a beer have been gracing barrels of brew for centuries, but its been synonymous in the States with a top crafty lager since 1984. Using his own money—and a family recipe for Louis Koch Lager that he found in an attic—Jim Koch founded Boston Beer Company in 1984. He named the dry-hopped lager after 18th-century Samuel Adams, who was a Founding Father, a governor of Massachusetts, a part of the American Revolution, and a brewer. (Like Alexander Hamilton, his varied resume deserves a musical.) According to a 2015 Brewer’s Association list, Boston Beer Co.’s the second best-selling craft brewery in the nation (next to Yuengling), and the fifth overall best-selling brewery.

3. MILLER LITE

We have a biochemist to thank for the advent of light beer. In 1967, Joseph L. Owades worked for Rheingold Brewery and discovered an enzyme that digested all of the starch, resulting in a beer label called Gablinger’s Diet Beer. Meister Brau of Chicago first manufactured the light beer until Miller Brewing bought Gablinger’s. In 1975 they changed the name to Miller Lite, and it became the first nationally distributed reduced-calorie beer.

4. COORS BANQUET

Adolph Coors liked the mountain waters of Colorado, so he established Coors there in 1873. Back in the late 1800s, miners in Golden, Colorado, worked hard every day and would gather after work and drink Coors beer in a celebratory banquet setting. In 1937, out of respect for those miners, the name Coors Banquet became official. Decades later, in 1981 the beer started national distribution. Besides the innovative stubby Banquet beers, Coors also became the forerunner of almost frozen cold-lagered beers (Coors Light), and they were one of the first breweries to delve into recycling, with the launch of their all-aluminum cans in 1959.

5. PBR

The Best family emigrated from Germany to Milwaukee and started Best and Company in 1844. Jacob Best Sr.’s daughter married Frederick Pabst, and in 1889, Pabst named the brewery after himself. They purchased about a million feet of silk ribbon, and workers hand-tied the ribbons around every bottle of their Best Select beer. At the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, the beer won a blue ribbon award, and Best Select’s name switched to Pabst Blue Ribbon in 1898. Today, the brand's mostly known as a hipster beer because of its cheap price.

6. ARROGANT BASTARD

This year, Escondido, California's Stone Brewing Company turns 20 years old, and one of their first beers, Arrogant Bastard, turns 19. Described as an “aggressive beer,” the strong ale set the standard for Stone’s West Coast-inflected IPAs and other hoppy beers. Founders Greg Koch and Steve Wagner have turned the brewery with the scowling, horned gargoyle logo into the ninth largest craft brewery in the U.S. "It told me what its name was," Koch told Thrillist about the beer’s genesis. "We did not create it. I did not name it. It was already there. We were just the first lowly mortals to have stumbled upon it. Steve was the first to learn how to brew the beer that already was, and I was the first to realize what its name already was."

7. BLUE MOON BELGIAN WHITE

The Belgian Wit (meaning white, or wheat) beer that’s served with an orange wedge derived from baseball. In 1995, Keith Villa, who is one of only a few Americans with a Ph.D. in brewing, began brewing beer inside Denver’s Coors Field stadium. Called the Sandlot, it was the first brewery inside of a Major League stadium. Taking his experiences from Brussels (where he earned his doctorate), Villa brewed a Belgian beer called a Bellyslide, made with Valencia orange peels and coriander. The Coors-owned beer was in such high-demand that they needed a better name than Bellyslide. "So one day, when a bunch of us were tasting beers, our admin called out, 'You know, a beer that tastes this good comes around only once in a blue moon,'" their story reads. "And with that phrase ringing in our ears, the Blue Moon Brewing Company was born."

8. OLD STYLE

Like so many other breweries on the list, the brewery’s founder moved from Germany to the Midwest. While living in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Gottlieb Heileman founded Golden Leaf Lager in the 1890s. Post-Prohibition, the company’s brewmaster came up with a strong brew for the company’s picnic and renamed the beer Old Style Lager Special Export. Old Style trickled into the Chicago market, and is noted for once sponsoring the Chicago Cubs (“Chicago’s beer”), and for its German brewing method called krausening—meaning to double ferment the beer.

9. SCHLITZ

August Krug was a homebrewer in 1849 and hired the recently emigrated, 20-year-old Joseph Schlitz to do his bookkeeping. Sensing an opportunity of a lifetime, Schlitz took over the brewery in 1856, when Krug died. Akin to Pabst, Schlitz renamed the company after himself. By 1902, Schlitz became the largest brewery in the world in crafting their American lager beer. In 1911, Schlitz was the first brewer to create the brown bottle design (to avoid spoiling), and decades later in 1956, they introduced the “tall boy” 16-ounce can, something that’s still prevalent in bars and stores today.

10. SIERRA NEVADA PALE ALE

Homebrewer Ken Grossman established the Chico, California, brewery in 1979 and named it for the nearby mountains where he loved to hike. A year later he started brewing the popular pale ale, using whole cone Cascade hops. According to the company’s website, Grossman dumped 10 batches of the ale before getting it right. The Pale Ale set the tone for today’s craft beer explosion, and more than 30 years later, Sierra’s one of the top three best-selling craft breweries in the U.S.

11. STROH’S

A German man named Bernhard Stroh settled down in Detroit in 1848, and started brewing pilsners like he had in his homeland. Stroh had originally named the brewery Lion’s Head Brewery, but his son, Bernhard Jr., changed the name to B. Stroh’s Brewing Company after Stroh’s death in 1902. Their lager formula won a blue ribbon at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and nearly a century later, in 1999, another ribbon-centric beer, Pabst Blue Ribbon, purchased the brewery.

12. FAT TIRE AMBER ALE

Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan formed the Fort Collins, Colorado, brewery in 1991, but started brewing their flagship beer, the Belgian-flavored Fat Tire, a couple of years beforehand in a basement. The amber ale got its name from a European trip Lebesch took on a bicycle, or a “fat tire,” and the bike ended up being used as the company’s logo.

13. MICHELOB

In 1896, Adolphus Busch named his new lager after the then-Kingdom of Bohemia (now Czech Republic) town of Michalovice. Michelob Light didn’t show up until decades later, in 1978, and the carb-reduced Michelob Ultra was invented in 2002.

14. COLT 45

Many people associate the malt liquor—a lager with a sweeter flavor—with longtime spokesman Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). But when it was first created in 1963, the National Brewing Company named the beer after Baltimore Colts running back Jerry Hill, who played for the football team from 1961 to 1970, with the jersey number 45. 

15. YUENGLING TRADITIONAL LAGER

David G. Yuengling immigrated to Pottsville, Pennsylvania, from Germany and established the company in 1829 as Eagle Brewery. When David’s son Frederick joined the team in 1873, the name changed to D.G. Yuengling and Son. The family didn’t gain popularity with their beers until 1933, when they introduced Winner Beer, in tandem with the repeal of Prohibition. Today, the beer’s so well-known in Philadelphia that when you’re at a bar and want a Yuengling, all you have to say is “lager” and the bartender will know what you mean.

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Courtesy New District
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Food
Say ‘Cheers’ to the Holidays With This 24-Bottle Wine Advent Calendar
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Courtesy New District

This year, eschew your one-tiny-chocolate-a-day Advent calendar and count down to Christmas the boozy way. An article on the Georgia Straight tipped us off to New District’s annual wine Advent calendars, featuring 24 full-size bottles.

Each bottle of red, white, or sparkling wine is hand-picked by the company’s wine director, with selections from nine different countries. Should you be super picky, you can even order yourself a custom calendar, though that will likely add to the already-high price point. The basic 24-bottle order costs $999 (in Canadian dollars), and if you want to upgrade from cardboard boxes to pine, that will run you $100 more.

If you can’t quite handle 24 bottles (or $999), the company is introducing a 12-bottle version this year, too. For $500, you get 12 reds, whites, rosés, and sparkling wines from various unnamed “elite wine regions.”

With both products, each bottle is numbered, so you know exactly what you should be drinking every day if you really want to be a stickler for the Advent schedule. Whether you opt for 12 or 24 bottles, the price works out to about $42 per bottle, which is somewhere in between the “I buy all my wines based on what’s on sale at Trader Joe’s” level and “I am a master sommelier” status.

If you want to drink yourself through the holiday season, act now. To make sure you receive your shipment before December 1, you’ll need to order by November 20. Get it here.

[h/t the Georgia Straight]

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Wally Gobetz, flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Food
A Brief History of the Pickleback Shot
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Wally Gobetz, flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It's sour. It's briny. For some, it's nauseating. For others, a godsend.

It's the pickleback shot, an unusual combination of drinking whiskey and pickle brine that has quickly become a bartending staple. Case in point? Kelly Lewis, manager of New York City's popular Crocodile Lounge, estimates she sells at least 100 pickleback shots every week.

Pickleback loyalists may swear by it, but how did this peculiar pairing make its way into cocktail culture? On today's National Pickle Day, we hit the liquor history books to find out.

PICKLEBACK HISTORY, AS WE KNOW IT

As internet legend has it, Reggie Cunningham, a former employee of Brooklyn dive bar Bushwick Country Club, invented the shot in March 2006. He was half bartending, half nursing a hangover with McClure's pickles, when a customer challenged him to join her in doing a shot of Old Crow bourbon whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice as a chaser. As he nostalgically tells YouTube channel Awesome Dreams, "the rest is history."

Cunningham went on to introduce the pairing to more and more customers, and the demand grew so much that he decided to charge an extra dollar per shot, just for the addition of pickle brine. After that, the mixture spread like wildfire, with bars across the world from New York to California and China to Amsterdam adding "pickleback" to their menus.

THE PICKLEBACK'S UNCLEAR ORIGIN

Two shot glasses topped with small pickles.

Neil Conway, flickr // CC BY 2.0

Sure, Cunningham may have named it the pickleback shot, but after reviewing mixed reports, it appears pickle juice as a chaser is hardly novel. In Texas, for example, pickle brine was paired with tequila well before Cunningham's discovery, according to Men’s Journal. And in Russia, pickles have long been used to follow vodka shots, according to an NPR report on traditional Russian cuisine.

Unfortunately, no true, Britannica-approved record of the pickleback's origin exists, like so many do for other popular drinks, from the Manhattan to the Gin Rickey; it's internet hearsay—and in this case, Cunningham's tale is on top.

SO, WHY PICKLES?

Not sold yet? Sure, a pickle's most common companion is a sandwich, but the salty snack and its brine have terrific taste-masking powers.

"People who don't like the taste of whiskey love taking picklebacks because they completely cut the taste, which makes the shots very easy to drink," Lewis told Mental Floss. "Plus, they add a bit of salt, which blends nicely with the smooth flavor of Jameson."

Beyond taste masking, pickle juice is also a commonly used hangover cure, with the idea being that the salty brine will replenish electrolytes and reduce cramping. In fact, after a famed NFL "pickle juice game" in 2000, during which the Philadelphia Eagles destroyed the Dallas Cowboys in 109 degree weather (with the Eagles crediting their trainer for recommending they drink the sour juice throughout the game), studies have seemed to confirm that drinks with a vinegary base like pickle juice can help reduce or relieve muscle cramping.

WAYS TO PARTAKE

While core pickleback ingredients always involve, well, pickles, each bar tends to have a signature style. For example, Lewis swears by Crocodile Lounge's mix of pickle brine and Jameson; it pairs perfectly with the bar's free savory pizza served with each drink.

For Cunningham, the "Pickleback OG," it's Old Crow and brine from McClure's pickles. And on the more daring side, rather than doing a chaser shot of pickle juice, Café Sam of Pittsburgh mixes jalapeños, homemade pickle juice, and gin together for a "hot and sour martini."

If pickles and whiskey aren't up your alley, you can still get in on the pickle-liquor movement with one of the newer adaptations, including a "beet pickleback" or—gulp!—the pickled-egg and Jägermeister shot, also known as an Eggermeister.

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